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12 take-aways from The COSBOA National Small Business Summit 2019

COSBOA CEO and board of directors with the summit organisers

It was a huge two-days in Melbourne focusing on policy development and emerging issues for small business at our National Small Business Summit in 2019. Themed Policy for the People, more than 60 phenomenal speakers, exhibitors and sponsors, brought collaboration, insight and real conversations around small businesses, red tape, training, contractors, digital engagement, finance, sustainability and policy. Here’s some of our top take-aways from the COSBOA #NSBS19!


The Hon. Adem Somyurek, Victorian Minister for Local Government and Small Business, officially opened the Summit, stating the Victorian Government is helping small and medium business suppliers get paid on time by committing to paying small business within 30 days of a correct invoice. He also announced that the Victorian Government’s objective is to increase the payroll tax-free threshold from $650,000 to $700,000 by 2022-2023 and reduce the payroll tax by 1.2% by 2023.


The hotly anticipated regulators super session, chaired by Kate Carnell, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman didn’t disappoint. The panel, consisting of John Price, ASIC Commissioner; Chris Jordan, Commissioner of Taxation; Sandra Parker, Fair Work Ombudsman; Geoff Browne, AFCA Lead Ombudsman for Small Business; and Gary Johns, Commissioner of Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits, debated some of the key issues for the small business sector and how the regulators can provide support and reduce complexity.

Kate Carnell offered some interesting stats on the small business sector, which helped fuel the discussions between regulators and small business leaders.

  • 61% of employing small business owners are approaching retirement age

  • 40% of business invoices are being paid late

  • 50% of owners have a taxable income less than the minimum wage

  • 97% of businesses have less than 20 employees

  • And 75% have less than five employees

Commissioner Price discussed ASIC’s ongoing efforts to combat illegal phoenix activity, stating: “Last financial year, ASIC prosecuted 382 individuals for 827 offences for failure to keep books and records which is often a classic indicator of phoenix activity. ASIC continue conducting surveillance of potential illegal phoenix activity, which is estimated to cost businesses between $1.1 and $3.1 billion each year.”

ASIC recently announced small business will feature strongly in their new corporate plans and they are working closely with Government to align the business registers.

Speaking on how the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is reviewing its internal pipeline and looking at the end-to-end experience for the taxpayer, Commissioner Jordan explained how the ATO want to better understand each situation and be able to distinguish between business people that have simply gone off-track verses those businesses that have conducted blatant tax evasion, enabling them to exercise more discretion and be more empathic where appropriate.

Commissioner Jordan finished by saying: “We’ve cut red tape, improved our systems to be more user-friendly, are providing advice online that is easier to understand and have made our call centres more responsive. We know we have further to go and constant improvement needs to be the norm, not the exception.”

Fair Work Ombudsman, Sandra Parker discussed how they have reduced their helpline wait to just four minutes and since launching the digital small business showcase last year, they have received 120,000 online views, ensuring businesses are getting the basics right.


Next up, the small business communications and accounting technology panel included Robert Tedesco, Vice President & General Manager at American Express; Paul Tyler, Co-Chief Customer Officer – Business, NBN; and Trent Innes, Managing Director, Xero Australia.

Providing an update on the NBN for business, Tyler said: “There is complexity in scale and each month 70,000 people are being connected to the NBN, with businesses accounting for 20,000. There are currently around 600,000 businesses on the NBN, but 500,000 of them are on a residential service, not a business product, which leads to faults.”

To assist small businesses finding the right solution for their voice and data needs, the NBN have set-up an online business solution finder, that can be found at:

Next, Innes shared interesting insights into small business and accounting. “We tried to make accounting fun and easy, so it doesn’t become a chore.”

The new Xero report: The economic impact of big businesses paying Australian small businesses late, estimates $115 billion in payments from large businesses to SMBs are paid late each year.


Moving on to emerging issues for small business, and the growing entry of younger people to the workplace, COSBOA introduced panelists to consider what needs to be done from a vocational education and training perspective to encourage small business to employ the new generation.

“Young people are hungry. There is a lot of merit around building pathways for entry; you can help mentor young people and build future sustainability,” says Liselle Pote, Cluster Director, Head Start Program.

Head Start is a new model for apprenticeships and traineeships for school students; helping them develop skills and experience that employers’ value. Schools and small businesses can get involved by visiting the Victorian State Government website.


Next up was the rising gig economy and the confusion and complexity on policy for contractors and small business people employing on-demand workers.

Natalie James, Partner, Deloitte Australia and former Fair Work Ombudsman, who is also leading the Victorian inquiry as Chair, said; “The Victorian Government is holding an inquiry into the on-demand workforce, to understand the extent of on-demand work. There are a range of issues arising; we know that these platforms have increased convenience and that’s awesome for consumers, but we are facilitating work in a way that is not necessarily under an employment framework.”


The Hon. Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy and Emission Reduction, joined the COSBOA Summit for a second year stating: “I firmly believe in the importance, both economically and politically, of the role of small business in this country and around the world - and we lose small business at our peril for our political culture and for our economy.

“Almost every decision [in this role] will impact small business in some shape or form.”

Minister Taylor talked about how Australia is in an investment boom in energy and that the challenge is to not encourage further growth in investment, but to make sure the current levels of investment are managed and guided to the right areas – to have a positive impact on the energy market.

“In 2018, Australia had over $13 billion of investment in clean energy - $13 billion - with similar or even higher investment forecast for this year. Per capita, we have the highest level of investment in the world - double or more that of most countries in the world like France, Germany, UK, Japan and so on.”

To conclude, Minister Taylor stated that the Government are sharply focused on the impact of energy policy for small businesses. “You deserve the right, as small businesses, to have reliable and cheap energy, and while we are starting to see price drops, we will continue to focus relentlessly on a fairer energy deal for all small businesses.”


Sir Bill English, Former New Zealand Prime Minster, gave some helpful tips to those looking at lobbying government, including politicians immunity to whinging and aligning your needs with theirs, “Don’t whinge. Politicians are good at listening to whinging, what works instead is to understand what the Politician needs to accomplish; they have things they need to do.”

He wrapped up the session saying, “Regulation that supports economic growth is really important.”


Anna Bligh, CEO, Australian Banking Association (ABA), shared research from the ABA Economic Report 2019, revealing five per cent of women and 67 per cent of people aged between 18 and 34 believe access to finance is stopping them from fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams.

To better support the small business community, ABA launched the ‘financing your small business’ website, designed to help business owners understand the world of business finance.


In a session focused on supporting the health and wellbeing of small business people, Wellbeing and Small Business, Naturopath and Nutritionist Christine Pope, COSBOA Director, and Kylie Holmes, Executive Officer, Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) Gippsland, shared survey results of what the most common stresses are for small business owners. They were:

  • Managing Staff

  • Overheads and expenses

  • Keeping up with compliance

  • Time pressure

To combat these stresses the top five interventions showcased to reduce stress included:

  • Mediterranean Diet

  • Exercise

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

  • Nutraceuticals

  • Sleep


The future of small business – stop talking and do something, revealed insights on what the Gen Y’s (1980-1990s) and Gen Z’s (1990-2000s) value from businesses, their behaviour and the concerns they have for the future.

Their top concerns were:

  • 95% said sustainability and environment

  • 93% gender equality

  • 90% social equality

  • 88% animal welfare

Fran Deighton, Consumer Strategy Lead at Junkee Media, said these findings tell us that young people care about everything. “They passionately care, they are aware, and they are bothered by the big issues.”

Estelle Dee, agreed, saying there are environmental solutions but you just need to be more aware of them.

The session showcased that Gen Y and Gen Z highly value a business’s ethical considerations and the quality of the product, which can provide small businesses a great opportunity to meet the demands of this consumer market.

Continuing conversations around sustainability was Paul Frasca, Co-Founder, Sustainable Salons, and Fleur Anderson, Director, 89 Degrees East, who joined Fran and Estelle on a panel to discuss ‘People, Plants & Profits,’ which covered discussions on what the future of small business looks like from an environmentally and economically sound perspective.


The final session, Seeking growth within a global digital economy, saw Megan Brownlow, Deputy Chair, Screen Australia and Media Federation of Australia, share research commissioned by Google Australia, about small business and the digital economy.

Key findings included:

  • 41% of small businesses know how to post on social

  • 20% are managing an online database of customers

  • 21% know what SEO is

“The digital economy is increasing visibility, and it’s now more vital than ever for SME’s to know not only who their audience is, but how to access them,” said Ms Brownlow.

The COSBOA Summit was a significant two days influencing policy to support and grow small business in Australia. A huge thank you to all our guests, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors for a terrific event. We look forward to welcoming you again to the COSBOA National Small Business Summit 2020 in Brisbane.

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